A third of food outlets in England don’t display a food hygiene rating but the figure has decreased over recent years, according to a survey.

In Northern Ireland and Wales, businesses are legally required to display their Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) sticker but this is not the case in England. The system ranges from 0 to 5, with 5 indicating “very good” and 0 meaning “urgent improvement necessary”. 

Research in November and December 2021 included 1,522 covert audits of food businesses in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and 1,500 phone interviews with companies. It was the first such report since the COVID-19 pandemic but officials said it was difficult to judge how much the pandemic had impacted survey results. 

Trends in physical and online sticker display

In England, almost two-thirds of businesses were displaying a food hygiene rating, either inside or that was visible from outside their premises. This compares to 61 percent in 2019 and 55 percent in 2017.

The display figure was 84 percent in Northern Ireland and 85 percent in Wales in 2021. This is down slightly for both nations from 2019 and there was also a fall in the proportion having the sticker in a place visible from outside. Takeaways and sandwich shops were more likely to show their rating than accommodation businesses, pubs, bars and nightclubs.

Most respondents agreed that displaying a food hygiene rating shows customers they take food hygiene seriously. It was also widely felt that having a higher score gave businesses a competitive advantage over those with lower results. 

Of businesses with a website, only a few had their food hygiene rating on show; Wales 11 percent, Northern Ireland 8 percent and England 5 percent. Self-reported display of ratings on websites was notably higher than what was found during audits.

Most businesses felt the display of food hygiene ratings should become mandatory for at least some online platforms but only about a fifth said companies should be required by law to display their rating on all web-based platforms used.

There is strong backing for compulsory display with about nine in 10 businesses in Northern Ireland and Wales saying the legal requirement is a good thing. Support is almost as high in England with 85 percent of firms thinking it would be good. This is up from 79 percent in 2019.

The FSA was hoping a proposal for mandatory ratings in England would be included in a recent Department of Health and Social Care white paper. However, this was delayed following the Prime Minister’s resignation. FSA was not able to hold a consultation so plans to bid for legislation have been put on hold until summer 2023.

Reasons for non-display
The majority were happy with their hygiene rating. Those with a better score showed higher satisfaction levels. Reasons reported by dissatisfied businesses include they were expecting a higher rating, a sense the rating was not fair, and the inspection was at an inconvenient time. 

Most firms felt the lowest food hygiene rating they would be satisfied with would be a 5. However, many felt a 4 would be “good enough” for them to display.

Those that had received a 4 or less reported making changes to improve their rating. Purchasing additional equipment and undertaking repairs was the most common change, followed by improving documentation and record keeping. 

The most common reasons for sites in England that did not put up their result was that similar businesses were not displaying their sticker and it was not a legal requirement. Some mentioned a dislike of the food hygiene rating scheme, and others said they had never received, or subsequently lost, the sticker. 

Most businesses were aware that if unhappy with their rating they could request a re-rating or appeal and they had a right to reply. Only a few firms requested a re-rating or replied.

Top reasons for not applying for a re-rating despite being unhappy, were that they had not made all of the changes suggested, the process coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees were too high and they had other competing priorities. Of those who applied for a re-rating, about a quarter were awarded a higher score. 

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